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Metrics and Tools for Sustainable Buildings Project


Building stakeholders need practical metrics, tools, and data to support investment choices and policymaking related to sustainable building designs, technologies, and regulations. EL is addressing this high priority national need by extending its metrics and tools for sustainable building products, known as BEES, to whole buildings. This involves developing whole building sustainability metrics based on innovative extensions to Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Life-Cycle Costing (LCC) approaches involving whole building energy simulations. These new metrics assess the "carbon footprint" of buildings as well as 11 other environmental performance metrics, and integrate economic performance metrics to yield science-based measures of the business case for investment choices in high-performance green buildings.


Develop, integrate, apply, and deploy measurement science assessing the sustainability performance of energy technologies and systems in an integrated building design and operation context for commercial and residential buildings.


What is the new technical idea?

The new idea is to address building sustainability measurement in a holistic, integrated manner that considers complex interactions among building energy technologies and systems across dimensions of performance, scale, and time. At the whole building scale, NIST is developing an extensive database of energy, environmental, and cost measurements for prototypical buildings based on detailed energy simulations, innovative life-cycle material inventories, and life-cycle costing (LCC). These measurements will be used to assess and compare sustainability performance for whole buildings meeting a range of building energy codes and standards on a location-by-location basis. The comprehensive sustainability performance metrics and database will be embodied in a decision framework within assessment and reporting tools to help building industry stakeholders develop business cases and policies for sustainability investment choices. For architects and designers that have an interest in their specific building design, NIST is developing a tool that will use the same approach and data sources, but allow for evaluation of the sustainability performance of a custom building design.


What is the research plan?

A unifying framework for sustainability measurement has been developed for the U.S. economy and applied to the U.S. construction sector and its constituent building types. Through this "top-down" approach, a series of baseline sustainability measurements has been made for prototypical buildings, yielding a common yardstick for measuring sustainability with roots in well-established national environmental and economic statistics. Using detailed "bottom-up" data, the baseline measurements for prototypical buildings have been adjusted to reflect a range of improvements in building energy efficiency, enabling assessment of their energy, environmental, and economic benefits and costs.

Databases. Baseline databases enabling sustainability performance assessment for a range of building types, energy technologies, and systems have been compiled. These sustainability databases include energy, environmental, and economic performance measurements. In FY16, energy simulation models for 2015 IECC compliant residential buildings, and associated cost and LCA data will be used to update the sustainability database for new residential energy technologies and building construction processes to include buliding requirements across code editions currently adopted at the state level as well as low-energy and net-zero energy designs. Also in FY16, the sustainability performance of all flooring products in the BEES software will be updated with new data and modeling approaches.

Reporting. In FY16, the sustainability database based on the NIST NZERTF will be made publically available in the Building Industry Reporting and Design for Sustainability (BIRDS) software package. Detailed documentation will be published on the development of the life-cycle cost and life-cycle assessment approaches necessary to create the sustainability database for the 240,000 different building designs based on the NZERTF geometry and location. This document will be added to the extensive Help System for the BIRDS tool, which together with the data will constitute an update to BIRDS (v3.0) capable of analyzing the sustainability performance of incremental energy efficiency measure adoption in new single-family dwellings in Maryland. The update to the new residential sustainability database to include 2015 IECC building designs will be incorporated into the beta version of BIRDS v4.0. NIST will complete the beta version of an OpenStudio Measure that will allow an architect, designer, or other OpenStudio user to calculate the environmental performance of a custom buliding design without leaving the OpenStudio application, and make the Measure available in OpenStudio's Building Component Library.

This research plan addresses needs gathered from an industry stakeholder group and refined through ongoing user feedback. The economic importance of this research plan and those of other NIST construction-related programs will be documented through annual updates to construction industry supply chain statistics for the Engineering Laboratory (EL) Director and the Manager of the Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Buildings Program. These statistics incorporate both investments in energy-related systems and components and metrics for measuring energy-related expenditures at the industry and sector levels.

Major Accomplishments:


  • BIRDS v1.0 released in September 2014;
  • New technical expertise in energy simulation and top-down LCA enabling science-based sustainability assessment of whole building energy, environmental, and economic performance on a life-cycle basis.
  • New database for U.S. building sustainability assessment covering 228 locations, 12 building types, and 5 levels of energy efficiency.
  • New guidance for policymakers on benefits and costs of energy codes.


  • The environmental importance weights developed by the BEES Stakeholder Panel are used in LEED version 3 and standardized in ASTM E1765-11 for Multiattribute Decision Analysis.
  • 50,000 Unique Visitors to BEES Online in its first year.

Standards and Codes:

  • Expected impact: Adoption of more efficient and cost-effective energy and green construction codes by states currently using outdated or no codes.
  • B. Lippiatt, International Green Construction Code Committee.